Former U.S. Trade Ambassador Ron Kirk visited UT's Bredesen Center Thursday to discuss nuclear energy and its future as a boon for the U.S. economy. After the lecture, which drew approximately 40 graduate students and faculty, Kirk and fellow lecturer Scott Peterson fielded questions regarding federal regulations and public opinion.
Kirk, a member of President Obama's cabinet from 2008-2013, began his public service career as the Texas secretary of state under Gov. Ann Richards before becoming the first African-American to be elected mayor of Dallas in 1995. During his time working for the federal government, Kirk forged Free Trade Agreements with countries including Columbia, Panama and South Korea. A lawyer by trade, Kirk left the White House in 2013 to become a legal strategy advisor and a co-chair for the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition.
CASEnergy is a national alliance of more than 3,400 members from diverse sectors of the economy, united in their desire to discuss nuclear energy and its proliferation. For Kirk and Peterson, nuclear power will not only power the country more cleanly and efficiently; it will give the U.S. an economic advantage amid booming global trade.
Following his seminar, Kirk sat down for a brief interview with The Daily Beacon regarding his personal experiences in the political world and his jump into the green energy world.
Daily Beacon: How did you begin your career in policy and why did you choose that career?
Ambassador Ron Kirk: "All of us are a product of the times we're born in."
Growing up in the segregated South, Kirk said his parents took pains to give their children lives " not restrained" by prejudiced perceptions of what African Americans could or couldn't do.
"I was never motivated by a desire to be in public service as much as I wanted to be a lawyer, because Thurgood Marshall was my hero. I also felt an acute sense of responsibility to reward and honor my parents' sacrifice, and those of their generation, that made all these opportunities possible for me by always being civically responsible. So the idea of not voting, not participating, in our sort of civic debate was just something that was foreign to me. I believe that it's part of our duty of being a good citizen."
DB: How did you make the leap from dealing with issues of intellectual property as U.S. Trade Ambassador to issues of energy as co-chairman of CASEnergy?
RK: "Probably a third of the countries I visited as our trade ambassador, I was never allowed to take an elevator by Secret Service because the power supply was so unstable. So that sort of hits you in the head, 'Wow. Energy is important.' I talk a lot about my work as a mayor, first of all, I think really served me well in my work as U.S. (Trade Ambassador) and my work as co-chair of Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, because mayors really are at the forefront of economic development, job creation, working with business. So this was not an issue foreign to me... My deciding to become affiliated with the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition was really returning to my roots."
DB: Where do you think nuclear energy is headed in the next few years?
RK: "The purpose of this whole CASEnergy Coaliton is to do several things. It's to get Americans thinking about where our energy comes from, and to try to educate more people about the reality that our country benefits from having a diverse supply of electricity...Part of what makes our system work is that we're not putting all of our eggs in one basket, and nuclear energy has the added benefit of being the only sort of base electricity supply system that can operate every day, all year round... It produces 60 percent of our clean air emissions that don't degrade the environment. What we want to do is get that message out and then raise the policy considerations that are involved in making sure nuclear energy stays a part of that portfolio."